Sunday, February 19, 2012

Michael: Pedophelia and Its Discontents

Written and Directed By: Markus Schleinzer
Starring: Michael Fuith and David Rauchenberger
Director of Photography: Gerard Kerkletz, Editor: Wolfgang Widerhofer, Production Designer: Katrin Huber, Original Music: Lorenz Dangel
Rated: Unrated, but the subject matter should be a clear warning.

            Meet Michael. He’s in his mid-30s. He sports a pair of glasses and is starting to bald. He works at an insurance company and he’s in line for a promotion. He visits his sisters, calls his mother. He a substantial though modest home and a car to match it. He also has a young child locked in his basement, and occasionally rapes him.

            And that’s the conceit of Michael, an early starter for the most pointless film of the year in the art house spectrum. The film comes from the mind of Austrian director Markus Schleinzer, who worked as a casting director for Michael Haneke. It’s easy to see the influence, but the limitations of someone who is not Michael Haneke. The camera is stiff and unflinching, though letting the imagination often creating the horrors that we truly fear. But it’s not as rigorous, and the subject matter of pedophilia is presented without anything of note, besides the point, “Evil is banal.”

            Banal, indeed, I thought, as the film drags us along the story of Michael and his normal days. He avoids conversations, though is polite when spoken too. He keeps his home in a neatly order, and the child is kept in a clean environment—he’s given food and a nice bed, as well as books and toys (in exchange, I guess, for rape privileges?). Schleinzer gives hints at what made Michael into a pedophile—possibly a bad childhood, perhaps an influence of the media (which leads to a scene that bludgeons the point, and offended me in terms of child actors laws) (Update: An interview with Schleinzer reveals the scene was created with digital effects, though it is still a very poorly written scene). But the writer-director isn’t interested in that as much as he is interested in the mundane.

            This wouldn’t be so bad of an offense if there seemed to be a larger point to all of this. But Michael remains something of a boring enigma throughout. I kept wondering throughout, how Hitchcock would’ve handled this character. As committed as Michael Fuith performs in the titular role, I kept wondering how much stronger and dynamic the film would have been with a more charming and witty lead. This not only brings up issues of realism—the fact nobody suspects him of anything seems preposterous—but also in terms of making us want to follow the character. A creepy guy who is creepy and does creepy, terrible things is typical. A charming and wonderful man who is hideous in his own basement is the type of things movies are made for.

            Schleinzer uses a camera without flourishes, and this can sometimes lead to a few tense moments, particularly a long take as Michael attempts to swoop up a youngling from a go cart track. But overall, I found Michael too infuriating of a narrative, and the lack of intricacy too mundane for me to truly invest myself. Late in the film, a character asks, “What can we learn from Michael?” It’s the kind of self-conscious act by Schleinzer that had me rolling my eyes, as the film takes a sudden and frankly lazy plot shift for the sake of messing with the audience, because the filmmaker clearly has no larger point to be made. Evil is banal in Michael, but it’s also very boring.

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